The Report: Dressed for Success

The Report is a blog series created to showcase the Festival's Fashion Writing finalists. Writers are sent to Arts, Ideas and Independent Runway events, to take a closer look at the diverse program beyond the runway, and explore fashion that takes us to galleries, stage, screen and more.


Camilla Stephenson graduated from RMIT in 2017 with a degree in Fashion Merchandising and a diploma in Public Relations. Her current 'passion project' is learning how to become a more conscious fashion consumer. Camilla is a traditional Taurus: reliable yet stupidly stubborn. She gets very excited over dogs, chocolate thickshakes and travelling.



Life for a young woman in the 18th century was very different to the female empowerment we see in 2018. Matrimony was the closest thing they had to a profession. So in order to score your own Mr Darcy (including all those pounds he brought with him), what did a young lady have to do or, more importantly, wear to catch the attention of an eligible bachelor?

Australian actress, Lise Rodgers, offers an insight into Jane Austen’s world and will discuss how young women presented themselves as they came out into society in Regency England in the VAMFF Arts Program event Dressed for Success at The Johnston Collection.

What were particular dress ‘rules’ at the time?

Sleeves were left for the daytime; short sleeves and long gloves in the evening. White was THE colour to wear. But if another colour was to be worn, a ‘conduct guide’ from the time mentions: “for a ‘slender lady’, the colour of her garments should be the most tender shades of green, blue, lilac, and simply adorned with a band of flowers or a string of pearls in the hair”. But if you were of a ‘fuller, more majestic figure’, darker colours were preferred.

How did one stand out at a ball whilst keeping to the dress rules?

It wasn’t about standing out. Dressing was all about simplicity, understated elegance, and modesty. Overly flirting or showing off by having your shoulders too exposed, or too much jewellery, was frowned upon and no decent man would look at you.

All the girls would possibly look similar but it was how you kept your demeanour that mattered. To show oneself off, in a modest way, you could dance nicely to show you could move gracefully. As Jane (Austen) writes in ‘Pride and Prejudice’: “to be fond of dancing [was] a certain step towards falling in love”.

If Jane Austen had to ‘dress for success’ in 2018, what would she wear?

The first question would be: what would Jane consider as success? I think she would certainly approve of today’s mantras of being true to yourself and following your dreams.

It would be something comfortable, with a degree of style and a hint of flourish, but nothing showy or expensive. She was [after all], brought up to be practical and understated.

Dressed for Success, presented by The Johnston Collection, was a participant of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival's Arts Program.

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